We finally review another volume of the Bount Arc and sadly in this case late is worse than never.
Yoshino’s death has granted Kariya an army of insect-like doll drones called Bitto which soon scatter in Episode 80 of Bleach Series 4 Part 3, leaving Ichigo and his cohorts to investigate what the Bount’s next step will be while Ishida mourns his dead friend. With that the action switches to the whacky konpaku side-kicks: Ririn, Kuroda, and Noba, who are given the task of keeping an eye on the Kurosaki household while the rest of the team hit the streets. They of course think this means having to set up a series of traps to catch any potential Bount invaders, roping Kon in for good measure. There’s almost nothing of merit going on in this comic aside beyond a brief cameo appearance by everyone’s favourite afro-Shinigami himself, Zennosuke.
It’s back to Bountiful drama in Episode 81 as Kariya’s army of Bitto start feeding on Karakura Town and the man himself introduces the rest of the Bount to his secret evil lair as he reveals that each Bitto can feed on a number of humans to create a concentrated serum of soul-juice that can increase their Bount power tenfold and expedite their plan to open a portal between worlds somewhat considerably. Meanwhile Ishida continues to mope around Urahara’s store because presumably he also lost his home when he lost his Quincy powers fighting Kurotsuchi back in Soul Society. The rest of Ichigo’s team are busy hunting Bitto, which you’d think would be a slam dunk for them seeing as we saw about a million being created back in Episode 79, but only Renji has any significant success in this area – oh and Hitsugaya sends Rangiku, Kira, Hisagi, and Yumichaka to Earth to investigate the Bount in a remarkable show of faith in Ichigo, Rukia, and Renji! The plot is progressing, but at the kind of pace that you’d have to be an immortal soul sucker yourself to survive.
The narrative may have hit a brick wall but the action breaks right through in Episodes 82-84 as the newly jacked up Bount hit Karakura town to try their new powers on some irrationally down-powered Shinigami! Ichigo draws the short straw of Koga and his boosted metallic doll: Dalk. Sadly if anything this injection of action makes the Bount arc even more insufferable than the leaden plot with another predictably boring one sided beating because Ichigo has seemingly forgotten how to put up even a modest resistance. The writers must also think we suffer from the same selective amnesia when they try to pep up the fight with an impromptu appearance by Ichigo’s inner-hollow: Shirosaki, which rather blatantly goes through the exact same motions as the fight with Byakuya. All Shirosaki’s appearance does is remind us how useless Ichigo has become in this arc, going from someone who was clearly Captain-class to a limp wristed hero who can’t even put a scratch on a Bount lieutenant.
Halfway through the Ichigo bashing is a short and entirely derivative flashback for Koga which attempts to make the Bount a little less one-dimensionally villainous by revealing a mini-tragedy in Koga’s past which brought him and Kariya closer together, but the story is so slight and familiar that it will most likely put you to sleep. Eventually we jump back to the present-day fight and when it falls on Kira to save Ichigo’s ass without even breaking a sweat you really will wish you were still asleep!
Episodes 85-86 concentrate on Rukia, Orihime, and Kuroda’s run in with Yoshi, whose doll: a sword and fan with split personalities, is so boring even the writers tire of her and bring in Mabashi and his cute little soul-invading doll to take over. If any of the Bount fights up until this point have a certain Pokémon-esque feel to them then Mabashi’s doll: Ritz will certainly raise an unintended chuckle. The fact it possesses Rukia leaving Orihime and her useless dithering to take over fighting duties says it all about this particular battle, and when Hisagi turns up to save the day you know you’re in for more bland sword waving as Kubo has yet to reveal Hisagi’s powers by this point in the story.
Rangiku at least has the good grace to arrive for her pre-destined fight before the Bount has started to own his earth-bound opponents in Episodes 86-97 when she helps Chad and Noba take on old man Sawatari and his doll, a whale made out of rock named Baura who has the ability to manipulate spacetime to warp and swim around within solid matter. This ability is at least semi-interesting and poses a credible threat to our heroes, leading to a more tactical affair as the team have to think up a plan to deal with this tricky ability. Although a little less planning and a little more action wouldn’t have gone amiss this is easily better than the previous two fights.
After the evening’s hi-jinks it’s time for the sides to regroup with Kariya and Ugaki putting the next phase of their plan into action and Hitsugaya’s team locating the Bount lair, although they immediately find Ugaki lying in wait for them with his weird Black-Magic style powers in Episodes 88-90. Someone at TV Tokyo/Dentsu/Studio Perrot has clearly been playing too many videogames as Ugaki’s doll Gesell feels more like a compilation of Nintendo bosses than any real threat, but naturally he manages to overpower not only four highly skilled Shinigami but also team Ichigo when they show up to return the favour from the night before and end up failing miserably, having to be rescued by Hitugaya’s squadron AGAIN. It seems one or all of the producers of this arc hate Tite Kubo’s lead characters with a passion.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel though in the final episode of this volume when Kariya reveals the Bount’s true goals to Ichigo right before giving him another inevitably humiliating beating for good measure – it feels like Ichigo beatings have taken the place of full stops in this arc – but in a truly shocking twist Ichigo finally remembers his errant Bankai!! Yup, turns out all he had to do was retreat into his inner world and ask Zangetsu to lend him power, and before you can say “Erm, didn’t he learn how to do that over fifty episodes ago?” he’s finally capable of lifting a finger to Kariya, but before you can enjoy Ichigo’s first effective fight-back against a Bount the moment is ruined by the arrival of Ishida in what must be the single most contrived moment of Plot-Induced-Stupidity in the history of serialised anime. Honestly it will make sure you finish Bleach Series 4 Part 3 with your mouth wide open wondering if the sheer boredom, the sheer creative incompetence of all the people involved in this arc hasn’t rotted your brain once and for all because there is absolutely no logic to be found in the final scenes of this volume. None what so ever.
It seems whoever authors these transfers is getting itchy feet over the aspect ratio again, as Bleach Series 04 Part 03 kicks off at a slightly wide 1.37:1 before settling into 4:3 from disc 02 onwards. Otherwise this 3-disc set presents Bleach to exactly the same standards as the previous releases, so I will simply repeat my A/V review from the first set here:
Bleach’s transfer generally looks quite pleasing: The print is in pristine condition and colours are crisp, bold and exhibit little to no noise or bleeding. Contrast and brightness levels are excellent and the image is about as sharp and detailed as you’d expect from the show’s varying production methods – plus there’s no noticeable Edge Enhancements either. However, there are two factors that let the transfer down a little: The usual NTSC-PAL standards conversion and the amount of Mosquito Noise in the image, pretty much every frame on these DVDs exhibits some form of Mosquito Noise!
Eschewing their recent trend of slapping on DTS and DD5.1 tracks to their releases, MangaUK have decided to just stick with the original Japanese DD2.0 track and an English DD2.0 track for the fans who like their American dubs. For the purposes of this review I sat down and listened to both tracks and can confirm they are both pretty equal in terms of quality. So with that being said I’ll just talk about both audio tracks as one singular track. The DD2.0 surround audio is of suitably high quality, handling the loud destructive action sequences with plenty of verve – thanks mostly to the punchy bass, good dynamics and some genuinely effective use of the rear channel. Dialogue too remains very clear and audible with no tearing when voices are raised; solid bass lends the voices a nice resonance as well.
Optional English subtitles are provided with no spelling or grammatical errors.
I think for the first time Manga have included extra features across all the discs in a thre-disc volume, but alas all this means is that each disc houses a Production Artwork gallery and Textless Closing sequence while the 3rd disc also features trailers for Naruto: The Movie, Bleach, and Death note.
With next to no plot progression and deadening fight sequences it’s fair to say that Bleach could only become more unwatchable right now if it included ten minutes of Ichigo graphically raping Bambi in each episode. The presentation however is decent enough.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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